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9 Food Pairings that Fight Disease


Over the last few decades, there has been a mountain of research on  the healing powers of individual compounds in  foods, such as lycopene,  vitamin D and essential fatty acids. Yet, scientists  are now realizing  that while an antioxidant like sulforaphane in broccoli can  be a potent  cancer fighter on its own, combining it with another compound such  as  selenium found in chicken, fish and Brazil nuts,  will give you even more  impressive disease-fighting results.

“Food synergy ties into the prevention of so many of our chronic  illnesses,  including heart  disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes,” says  California-based  dietitian Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, author of Food  Synergy: Unleash Hundreds of Powerful  Healing Food Combinations to  Fight Disease and Live Well (Rodale,  2008).

You don’t have to eat in a fancy restaurant presided over by a  professional  nutritionist to enjoy the benefits of food synergy, either.  While researchers  haven’t even begun to untangle all the science behind  the synergy, these “power  couples” can easily come together in your own  kitchen — and prove that, when it  comes to our diets, one plus one can  easily equal three.

Tea & Lemon

Green  tea is at the top of the functional-drink heap, promoting  wellness  through antioxidants called catechins, which can aid in  reducing the  risk of both heart  disease and cancer. But if we want a  bigger health boost from our  tea, we should be adding a splash of  citrus, says Mario Ferruzzi, PhD,  associate professor of food science at  Purdue University.

“In test tube and animal studies, we discovered that ascorbic acid,  such as  that in citrus including lemon, orange and lime juice, helps  stabilize  catechins in the gut and increase absorption into the  bloodstream,” he says.  Looking for a warm-weather alternative? Brew up a  batch of iced tea and add  slices of lemon.

Other research suggests that pairing green  tea with capsaicin (the  compound that gives chili peppers their pow)  can increase satiety and  potentially aid in weight loss. The tag team of green  tea and lycopene,  present in watermelon,  tomatoes and pink grapefruit, works  synergistically to help men dodge prostate  cancer.

Bananas &  Yogurt

Yogurt and other fermented foods, such as kefir, tempeh and  sauerkraut, are  teeming with beneficial live bacteria called probiotics that keep our immune and  digestive systems strong. But, like all living  creatures, they need something  to munch on to thrive. Enter inulin.

Found in bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), onion,  endive, garlic, leeks, wheat germ and artichokes, inulin is a  nondigestible  carbohydrate that acts as a food source for intestinal  bacteria. “It behaves as  a prebiotic to enhance probiotic growth,” says  Georgianna Donadio, PhD, program  director for the National Institute of  Whole Health in Massachusetts. In  addition to boosting the friendly  critter count in your gut, inulin increases  the intestinal absorption of  bone-strengthening calcium.

Calcium & Sun

If calcium could speak to vitamin D, it would say, “You complete me.”  That’s because the sunshine vitamin increases the amount of calcium  that gets  absorbed in the intestines, says Magee. Ergo, you can down all  the calcium-rich  foods you want, such as tofu, yogurt, sesame seeds,  broccoli and cheese, but  without a steady supply of calcium’s wingman,  your bones won’t reap the  rewards.

European scientists recently reported that adequate daily consumption  of  both calcium and vitamin D was linked to a 20 percent drop in the  rates of hip  fracture in individuals 47 or older. Harvard scientists  found that subjects  with the highest calcium intake and blood vitamin-D  levels had reduced insulin  secretion, which may offer protection from  type 2 diabetes. And another Harvard  study determined that premenopausal  women with the highest intakes of both  vitamin D and calcium had a 30  percent lower risk of  developing breast cancer.

Your best bet for getting enough vitamin D is to spend a minimum of  10  minutes a day in the sunshine (with a decent amount of skin exposed),  but you  can also benefit from good food sources, like cod liver oil,  salmon and  sardines. The latest recommendations from respected experts  like Andrew Weil,  MD — 2,000 IU of daily vitamin D — suggest that you  may also need a daily  vitamin-D supplement.


Salads & Avocado (or Nuts)

Find naked salads unbearably boring? Then, by all means, top them  with  vinaigrette or a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.  Similar studies  from Ohio State University and Iowa State University showed  that adding  healthy fats like nuts, extra-virgin olive oil or avocado to your salad  bowl  can increase the amount of beneficial antioxidants — such as lutein  in leafy  greens, lycopene in tomatoes and red peppers, and  beta-carotene in carrots— your body absorbs.

Fat slows down the digestion process, which gives the plant  compounds in the same meal a better chance of being absorbed,” says  Magee. Fat  also helps fat-soluble antioxidants, such a vitamin E,  dissolve in the  intestine so they can be passed into the bloodstream  more efficiently. After  absorption, says Magee, these antioxidants may  help vanquish some of the free  radicals in our bodies, which can damage  DNA and trigger diseases and hasten  aging.

In fact, a 2008 Journal of Nutrition study reported that those who  ate more  alpha- and beta-carotenes — compounds in fruits and  vegetables  that help bring out their stunning yellow, orange or red hues — had   roughly a 20 percent lower risk of dying from heart  disease over a  15-year period than those who took in less.


Beans & Raw Peppers (Iron +  Vitamin C)

Long before food synergy became part of our lexicon, scientists knew  that  iron and vitamin C form a unique relationship. Iron  comes in two  guises: heme iron, the type found in animal products such as beef,  fish  and poultry, and a form called non-heme, found in plant foods like  beans,  whole grains and spinach.

On its own, the body absorbs up to 33 percent less non-heme iron than  heme  iron, says Donadio, “but you can increase its absorption two- to  threefold by  consuming it with the vitamin C in whole fruits and  vegetables.”

So how does vitamin C pull off this nifty trick? Donadio says it  likely  participates in the production of an enzyme responsible for  changing non-heme  iron to a more easily absorbed form called ferrous  iron, so you get more  mileage, for example, out of the iron in your bean  salad. Iron is necessary for  producing hemoglobin, which transports  oxygen to muscles and the brain. Low  levels can lead to fatigue,  weakness and poor concentration. Vegans and  vegetarians should take  particular heed of this food pairing to help keep iron stores replete.   Premenopausal women are also particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency  due to  losses through menstruation.


Burgers & Bananas (Salty Foods +  Potassium)

By all accounts,  the American diet is tantamount to a salt lick.  According to Centers for  Disease Control data, the average person in the  United States consumes an  elephantine 3,436 milligrams of sodium daily,  double the amount most people  should ingest. For some, this is a recipe  for cardiovascular woes because of a  salt-induced rise in blood  pressure, which raises stroke and heart-attack risk.  But potassium,  which encourages the kidneys to  excrete sodium, can counter the harmful  effects of sodium overload. So, when  noshing on salty dishes or  sodium-packed canned soups, frozen meals and  fast-food fare, make sure  to load up on potassium-plump fruits, vegetables and  legumes at the same  time.


Brown Rice & Tofu (Carbs +  Protein)

If you emerge  from the gym with a rapacious appetite, make sure to  quell it with a healthy  dose of both protein and carbohydrates. “Carbohydrates and protein together after a workout work jointly to  speed up  muscle recovery by enhancing the blood insulin response,” says  Molly Kimball, a  sports dietitian at the Elmwood Fitness Center in New  Orleans. “Higher insulin  levels will supply muscles with a faster and  larger dose of repair nutrients  such as glucose and amino acids.”

The outcome of this perfect pairing is less muscle soreness and  better  fitness results. Postworkout, Kimball recommends carbohydrate and  protein  combinations such as a turkey sandwich, yogurt and fruit; brown  rice and  grilled chicken or tofu; and pasta with meat sauce.


Wine & Fish

Merlot and  salmon may indeed be a perfect pairing. A 2008 study  published in the American  Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that  European men and women who consumed  as little as 4 ounces of wine a day  had higher blood levels of the omega-3 fats found in fish such as trout,   salmon and sardines. The same results were not found for beer or  spirits.

Scientists believe that heart-chummy polyphenol antioxidants in wine  such as  resveratrol might be responsible for the improved absorption of  omega-3 fats,  which have been shown to protect against myriad maladies,  including depression,  diabetes, mental decline and stroke.

Prefer chardonnay over merlot? According to a 2008 Journal of  Agricultural  and Food Chemistry study, white wine contains its own  distinct polyphenol  compounds that give it the same heart-protective  qualities as red. You can  enjoy wine with your fish or even use it to  marinate your catch  of the day.

Both on food labels, and in nutritional reporting, the tendency has  been to  trumpet one nutrient at a time. But food scientists have  uncovered thousands of  bioactive phytochemicals in fruits, vegetables  and whole grains, says Magee, “and now they are discovering that these  often work better in pairs or  groups.”

What we’re learning, she says, is that extracting and isolating  nutrients  doesn’t work very well: “The power is in the packaging, and  pills with single  nutrients just can’t match the healing power of whole  foods.”

The lessons of food synergy, it seems, are the same commonsense  lessons  we’ve been hearing for a long time now: For good health, eat a  variety of whole  foods — and eat them together.


Herbs & Olive Oil + Meat

Good news for grilled-meat lovers: Scientists at Kansas State  University  discovered that adding rosemary and other herbs to meat  cooked at  high temperatures reduces the formation of suspected  carcinogenic compounds  called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by as much as  70 percent. Antioxidants in  extra-virgin olive oil have also been found  to help fend off cancer-promoting  HCAs. Similarly, marinating meat such  as steak and chicken in an  antioxidant-rich spice or wine blend has been  shown to be a very effective  method of reducing HCAs.



Not-So-Good  Pairings:

Alas, some couples were never meant to be. Here are  three common food  pairings that fail to bring out the best in either party.

Milk and Tea

A recent study in the European Heart Journal suggests you  shouldn’t follow  the lead of the Brits and spike your tea with milk. The  scientists discovered  that adding moo juice to black tea blunted its   cardiovascular benefits. Casein protein in milk may bind up antioxidants  in  tea, rendering them less available for absorption.

Milk and Chocolate

A few studies have also found that milk can reduce absorption  of flavonoids  in cocoa. These flavonoid antioxidants are believed to be  behind the numerous  health perks, such as reduced blood pressure,  attributed to dark chocolate. So choose dark chocolate  over milk  chocolate when possible.

Coffee and Oatmeal

“Tannins present in coffee, tea and wine are known to interfere  with iron absorption, particularly the iron found in plant-based foods  like  oatmeal, beans and leafy greens,” says Jarod Hanson, ND. The upshot  is this: If  you’re prone to iron deficiency, you might want to avoid  the cup of joe with  your morning oats.

Matthew Kadey MSc, RD, is a Canada-based dietitian and food and nutrition writer. His favorite food pairing is dark chocolate and almond butter. (Leesa recommends all your choices be organic!)  


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14 Foods that Fight Inflammation and Pain

14 Foods that Fight Inflammation and Pain

Some of the best healing remedies to overcome inflammation also taste  fabulous (I can’t say that about any prescription medications). Plus, foods  won’t cause the nasty side effects common to most pain medications.

1. Blueberries: Blueberries are also excellent  anti-inflammatory foods. They increase the amounts of compounds called  heat-shock proteins that decrease as people age.  When heat-shock proteins  are in short supply inflammation, pain and tissue damage is the result.

2. Cayenne Pepper: Ironically, cayenne pepper turns DOWN the  heat on inflammation due to its powerful anti-inflammatory compound  capsaicin.

3. Celery and 4. Celery Seeds: James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy, found more than 20 anti-inflammatory compounds in  celery and celery seeds in his research, including a substance called apigenin,  which is powerful in its anti-inflammatory action.  Add celery seeds to  soups, stews or as a salt substitute in many recipes.

5. Cherries: While many people opt for aspirin as their  first course of action when they feel pain, Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, professor  of natural products and chemistry at Michigan State University, found that tart  cherry extract is ten times more effective than aspirin at relieving  inflammation.

6. Dark Green Veggies: Veggies like kale and spinach contain  high amounts of alkaline minerals like calcium and magnesium.  Both  minerals help balance body chemistry to alleviate inflammation.

7. Fish: According to Dr. Alfred D. Steinberg, an arthritis  expert at the National Institute of Health, fish oil acts directly on the immune  system by suppressing 40 to 55 percent of the release of cytokines – compounds  known to destroy joints and cause inflammation.

8. Flax seeds and Flax Oil: Flax seeds are high in natural  oils that convert into hormone-like substances in the body to reduce  inflammatory substances. Add ground flax seeds to smoothies, atop pancakes or  French toast, and many other foods.  Do not heat.

9. Ginger: Dr. Krishna C. Srivastava at Odense University in  Denmark found that ginger was superior to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs  (NSAIDs) like Tylenol or Advil at alleviating inflammation.

10. Raspberries, 11. Blackberries, and 12. Strawberries: In  Dr. Muraleedharan Nair’s later research she discovered that these berries have  similar anti-inflammatory effects as cherries.

13. Turmeric: Research shows that the Indian spice  frequently used in curries suppresses pain and inflammation through a similar  mechanism as drugs like COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors (without the harmful side  effects).

14. Walnuts: Like flax seeds, raw, unsalted walnuts contain  plentiful amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids that decrease pain and  inflammation.

Adapted from Arthritis-Proof:  The  Drug-Free Way to Beat Pain and Inflammation by Michelle  Schoffro Cook, PhD.

By  Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international  best-selling and 12-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine,  whose works include: Healing  Recipes, The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body  Detox, The Life Force Diet, The  Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme  Cure.  Check out her natural health resources and subscribe to her free  e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News at  to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook  and Facebook.

5 Foods to Fight Insomnia

5 Foods to Fight Insomnia

If you’re having trouble catching some Zzzs, the solution could be as close as your kitchen.  Sleep restores us. And not getting enough of it can put us at greater risk of heart disease and cancer. Sleep even makes us smarter. Yet researchers are finding that more than 10 percent of the population is chronically sleep deprived. If you’re having trouble slipping into and remaining in Dreamland, don’t dart straight to prescription sleep drugs, which can be habit-forming, harmful if you live with certain conditions, and even downright bizarre! (Some people develop sleep-eating and sleep-driving habits when using prescription sleeping pills.) The good news is, science has found that many foods, drinks, herbs, and other natural sleep aids can help put you to sleep…naturally. In fact, just this summer, researchers made the connection between tart cherry juice and getting adequate shut-eye. Here are some natural food- and drink-based sleep aids.


In the small study, participants drank eight ounces of the tart cherry (also known as sour cherry) juice in the morning, and another eight ounces in the evening, for two weeks and reported better sleeping habits. Since all cherries are naturally high in melatonin, a compound that makes us sleepy, you can try eating a cup as a snack before it’s time for shut-eye if you’d rather not drink the juice.


Certain fish and sea creatures contain sleep-inducing tryptophan, including shrimp, cod, tuna, and halibut. But since not all seafood choices are healthy for us (some are high in contaminants) or for the planet (many are overfished, or methods for catching them kill other species), stick to catches like Pacific cod from Alaska or pole-caught Albacore tuna from the U.S. or British Columbia.

Carb/Protein Combo

If keeping track of the latest safe seafood guidelines is too complicated, you can get your tryptophan fix from other things. You’ve probably heard that warm milk can help you sleep, since milk contains tryptophan. But the key is to combine carbs with a protein containing tryptophan to help your body better utilize the sleep inducer. Try pairing a cup of whole grain cereal with organic milk before bedtime.

Lemon Balm

This lemon-scented member of the mint family has been a sleep-inducing superstar for ages. Other benefits include better digestion and decreased agitation. Try making lemon balm tea by steeping 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried herb in 1 cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. (If you take thyroid meds, talk to you doctor…drinking the tea could mean you’ll have to adjust your dosage.)

Other Herbs

If lemon balm’s not your thing, another herb, sage, also works as a natural sleep aid. Just steep 4 tablespoons in a cup of hot water, steep for four hours, strain, and reheat to drink. Chamomile tea and valerian teas, other sleep inducers, are also more widely available pre-bagged in natural food stores, if you don’t want to fuss with the aforementioned straining herbs.

By Leah Zerbe is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice. features a Daily Newsletter, and provides simple, powerful tools including Recipe Finder and Home Remedy Finder to help audiences improve their health and their environment. also includes “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen,” a personal blog where Editor-in-Chief and Rodale, Inc. CEO and Chairman Maria Rodale is “Cooking Up Trouble, Dishing Out Advice.”

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